Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, left, and Green co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson (Photos: Getty Images)
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, left, and Green co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson (Photos: Getty Images)

PoliticsOctober 31, 2020

What the Labour-Greens deal means for the next three years

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, left, and Green co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson (Photos: Getty Images)
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, left, and Green co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson (Photos: Getty Images)

It’s not a confidence and supply deal, and it’s certainly not a coalition. So what are the implications of today’s agreement for each party, and for their constituents?

Labour and the Greens have struck a cooperation agreement that provides Jacinda Ardern with stability in parliament over the next three years, while giving Marama Davidson and James Shaw access to the machinery of government.

The agreement isn’t a coalition or a support deal that binds the Greens to always approving Labour’s decisions. Instead, it gives the Green caucus wide latitude to criticise the government and on important issues, the Greens can choose to abstain. Labour will form a majority government alone, the first in decades in New Zealand.

Speaking with reporters today, Ardern said the deal secures Labour’s mandate, while giving the government access to some of the talent in the Green benches. For those Green members looking at the deal with disappointment after the party was offered less than the 2017 agreement, Ardern’s message was simple: Labour could govern alone. She never considered a formal coalition.

What the deal does is ensure that the two parties, which together received about 57% of the vote in the election earlier this month, will cooperate on climate change, the environment and poverty.

“The agreement commits the Greens to not opposing confidence and supply votes and supporting the government on procedural motions,” said Ardern.

“This has the effect of strengthening the government’s stability and will ensure there is always a strong majority in parliament on the most important votes.”

In exchange for allowing Labour’s decisions to flow unhindered through parliament, the Greens will get two ministers who will officially sit outside of cabinet. That distinction means that Davidson and Shaw will still head ministries, but they’ll only be called to cabinet discussions that directly impact them.

The Green co-leaders will technically be free to disagree on areas outside their ministerial portfolios, but will still be bound by the expectation of cabinet’s collective responsibility. It’ll be a difficult juggling act if the future government runs afoul of the Green base. 

The Labour government will also cooperate with the Greens on achieving zero carbon emissions, protecting the environment and biodiversity, as well as improving child wellbeing and marginalised communities. There’s a heavy focus on the Green Party’s environmental credentials, with little mention of the social justice issues that animate large parts of its activist base.

One of the party’s former MPs expressed her displeasure today, calling the agreement a “sad day for the party” after the Greens approved it.”

“If you can’t speak out strongly on clearly on climate change and homelessness. And have no real power on either, what’s the point of being in parliament?” wrote Sue Bradford in a tweet.

Under the deal, Davidson will pick up the new position of minister for the prevention of family and sexual violence, as well as the associate minister of housing. That associate role will focus on homelessness.

Much of that work was handled last term by Green MP Jan Logie as a more junior under-secretary. The role has now been upgraded and offered to Davidson.

“New Zealanders voted us in to be a productive partner to Labour to ensure we go further and faster on the issues that matter. We will make sure that happens this term,” Davidson said in a statement after the party’s membership voted to adopt the deal.

Shaw will continue as climate change minister, and will also be the associate environment minister, with a focus on biodiversity.

“James knows climate change inside out. His expertise in this complex and detailed policy area is an important skill set to tap into and he has a range of domestic and international stakeholder relationships that are important to maintain,” said Ardern.

During the campaign, the National Party repeatedly warned that Labour would be forced into supporting the Greens’ proposed wealth tax. That won’t be happening. Not only are the Greens not being given any role close to the finance ministry, the agreement means that Labour won’t be required to form consensus with the Greens while formulating the budget or other significant legislation, according to Ardern.

With the new certainty comes a downside for the government. There won’t be any possibility for the next Labour government to blame any failures on partners in government. The “handbrake” that Winston Peters said New Zealand First provided for the past three years is now completely gone. The speedy red Labour car now has a large accelerator and no brake pedal.

The new, all Labour cabinet will be announced on Monday. One of the challenges it’ll face over the next government is the possibility of a significant overhaul of New Zealand’s electoral rules. In an unexpected addition to the agreement, Ardern has said she wants to look at tinkering with MMP, electoral finance law and the length of parliamentary terms.

Labour’s policy has been to lower the party vote threshold and abolish the coat-tailing rule under MMP, which allows parties that win a single electorate seat to bring a large cohort of MPs to Parliament based on the part vote.

Both Ardern and National leader Judith Collins agreed during debates over the campaign that the current three-year term of parliament should be extended. There will now be a real push to do that.

“I believe the current parliament is uniquely positioned to address these long-term issues and find a consensus on them, and judging from recent public comment, there appears to be an appetite across parliament to take action on at least some of these issues,” said Ardern.

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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